As little as 10-15 grams of cacao or good dark chocolate a day can provide measurable health benefits. Cacao is a source of antioxidants that can protect the brain from degeneration and inhibit the development of Alzheimer’s and other neurodegenerative diseases¹.
Listing all health-promoting properties of cacao beans would take a long time, so let us focus on 10 cacao properties that support longevity and good health:
Cacao helps prevent cancer
Cacao beans are one of the best natural sources of antioxidants and polyphenols. According to data provided by the US Department of Agriculture, natural cacao ranks among the top foodstuffs rich in active antioxidants. It has 4 times more of them than berries and 30 times more than red wine and green tea!²
The ORAC (Oxygen Radical Absorbance Capacity) index is used to calculate the antioxidant capacity of foodstuffs. To reduce oxidative stress, it is recommended that you consume between 3000 and 5000 ORAC units in your food every day. 100g of unprocessed cacao has an ORAC score of 26,000 and dark chocolate has 13,120, compared to 4,523 for red cabernet sauvignon wine, 2,400 for blueberries, 1,253 for loose leaf green tea, 736 for red grapes and 67 for cherries³.
Extend your youth!
Cacao helps delay the aging process of our cells. Polyphenols, particularly flavanols and the flavonoids identified in cacao: catechin, epicatechin and quercetin, may increase cell viability, support immunity and our resilience in dealing with “diseases of civilization”. Their role is to stimulate blood flow, especially to the brain. They also affect the process of antioxidation – resveratrol, the “polyphenol of longevity”, may slow down the aging process, has a protective effect on the heart, can prevent hypertension and contribute to the prevention of cancer⁴.
Great memory and focus
Cacao can improve memory and concentration. “Chocolate has a pro-brain effect, affecting not only neurotransmission and mood, but also learning processes”⁵. The flavonoids present in cacao beans also have positive effects on brain structures related to memory. They may delay brain disorders and cognitive deficits associated with aging. Moreover, they may improve the viability of neurons and protect them from degeneration. Thus, they may protect the brain and contribute to the prevention of neurodegenerative diseases i.e. Alzheimer or Parkinson⁶.
More active and healthier brain
Cacao can improve brain function. Hot chocolate is good for the brain, especially in terms of its cognitive functions. Researchers from Harvard Medical School in Boston came to this conclusion based on a study involving a group of 60 healthy adults aged 73. The subjects drank 2 cups of hot chocolate a day for 60 days. They were then asked to perform memory and reflex tests, and ultrasound testing was used to measure blood flow changes in their brain during the study. The results showed a marked improvement, even among the subjects who had fainting episodes and spells of weakness at the beginning of the study⁷.
In addition, due to its properties, cacao:
Cacao supports the heart and counteracts the aging of blood vessels. It helps regulate the amount of platelets necessary for blood clotting, regulating immunity and inhibiting the risk of cardiovascular disease. Regular consumption of dark chocolate can lower blood pressure and may translate into lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease⁸
Happiness at your fingertips
Cacao is a natural antidepressant – the presence of anandamide, theobromine, phenylethylamine and serotonin account for its stimulating properties having a positive effect on our central nervous system and mood. It helps relax and calm down.
Cacao boosts immunity – cocoa polyphenols are stimulators of our innate immune system.
Cacao improves stamina – the compounds present in cacao, through their effect on vasodilation, improve the body’s ability to use oxygen. This, in turn, may increase our endurance. Combined with antioxidants, they add energy and may increase our resistance to fatigue by 30%⁹. Eating a serving of cacao or dark chocolate before a training session allows athletes to exert more effort.
Keeping in shape!
Cacao helps maintain optimum body weight – regular consumption of chocolate rich in cacao (and low in sugar) helps accelerate metabolism and maintain optimum weight. This was demonstrated in a study by researchers from the University of California, San Diego. Regardless of gender, age and level of physical activity, study participants who regularly consumed dark chocolate had a lower BMI (body mass index)¹º.
It must be love!
Cacao is an ally of love – in the past, cacao was considered an aphrodisiac. Research shows that cacao consumption may have a positive effect on male sperm and female egg cells. The substances found in cacao warm up the heart – literally and figuratively. Due to its stimulating properties and with increased levels of phenylethylamine in the brain, cacao consumption can boost our feeling of pleasure. The state after cacao consumption can be compared to the state of being in love.
Is every chocolate superfood?
No. The health-boosting properties in chocolate come from ingredients naturally occurring in cacao. Claiming that their benefits extend to chocolate-based confectionery, chocolate candy bars or filled chocolates would be misleading. If you want to support your healthy lifestyle – choose the right kind of chocolate:
- Start using natural, high-fat cacao in the form of beans, nibs, cacao paste and high-quality dark chocolate.
- When choosing chocolate, go for products that are as minimally processed as possible, with a short list of ingredients, made with high-quality ingredients, low in sugar, and rich in cocoa fat – no other vegetable fats should be added.
- Remember to eat chocolate slowly, rather than gobble it up on the run. This way, you will eat less, and apart from benefiting from all those healthy ingredients you will also treat yourself to a moment of pleasure, which will support and help you relax 🙂
- Instead of a handful of supplements, another cup of coffee or a sweet candy bar, drink a cup of cacao prepared from cacao paste and feel a natural energy boost 🙂
Natural cacao and good-quality chocolate with few ingredients and high content of high-quality cacao is a real superfood that benefits our body and well-being in a holistic way. It is worth introducing them into our diet – for health and for pleasure 🙂
If you want more information about active substances present in cacao, take a look at the post Why is cacao healthy?, describing what exactly is in cacao and how it works.
(1) Jedz czekoladę i żyj 100 lat [Eat Chocolate and Live to Be a Hundred], Natasza Kotarska, Altenberg, Warszawa 2020
(2)https://motywatordietetyczny.pl/2017/08/czy-wino-i-czekolada-wydluzaja-zycie-10-dobroczynnych-wlasciwosci-polifenoli/ [accessed on: April 4, 2021]
(3) Jak leczyć się czekoladą [How to Treat Yourself Using Chocolate] Professor Henri Joyeux, Jean Claude Berton, AA, Kraków 2020
(4) https://dietetycy.org.pl/resweratrol-bioaktywny-polifenol-dlugowiecznosci/ [accessed on: April 4, 2021]
(5) Jedz czekoladę i żyj 100 lat [Eat Chocolate and Live to Be a Hundred], Natasza Kotarska, Altenberg, Warszawa 2020
(7) Jak leczyć się czekoladą [How to Treat Yourself Using Chocolate] Professor Henri Joyeux, Jean Claude Berton, AA, Kraków 2020
(9) Jedz czekoladę i żyj 100 lat [Eat Chocolate and Live to Be a Hundred], Natasza Kotarska, Altenberg, Warszawa 2020